The Mitzvah of Paying Employees On Time
in the writings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria
translated and explained from Ta'amei HaMitzvot by Rabbi Moshe
Rabbi Chaim Vital gives us an anecdotal illustration of the extent
to which the Arizal took this commandment seriously.
My teacher [the Arizal] was extremely careful regarding the commandment
of paying a worker [on time]. He sometimes put off praying Mincha until
he had paid [his worker]. This sometimes meant waiting to pray until
sunset, if he did not have the cash to pay the wages and had to send
people all over to ask others for money until he had enough to pay the
wages. Only then would he pray Mincha, saying, "How can I pray
to G-d when such a great mitzvah comes my way? Can I put it off and
still face G-d in prayer?"
"The wages of a hired worker shall not abide with you [through
the night] until morning."
In another verse [that details this commandment] it is written, "On
the day he [earns them]you shall give [him] his wages."
. The full verse is: "Do not withhold the wages due to your poor
or destitute hired hand, whether he is one of your brethren, or a proselyte
living in a settlement in your land. You must give him his wage on the
day it is due, and not let the sun set with him waiting for it. Since
he is a poor man, and to you he lifts his soul, do not let him call
out to God, causing you to have a sin."
Jewish law clarifies:
What is "on time"? If the workman had finished the work during
the day, he should be paid before the end of that day; if he finishes
his work in the evening, he should be paid during the night. So also
is the case with the workman hired by the week, or month, or year, if
he has finished his work during the day, he should be paid during the
day; if he has finished his work during the night, he should be paid
during the night, but not later. The employer does not transgress the
law unless the workman demands his wages and he, the employer, has the
money to pay. If the workman failed to demand his wages, or the employer
lacks the money to pay the workman, then there is no violation of the
law. Nevertheless, a scrupulous employer should if necessary, borrow
the money to pay the wages at the proper time, for the workman is poor
and sets his heart upon his pay
Now the mystical aspects of the mitzvah will be explained
The initials of these words [beyomo titein secharo] spell Shabbat. This
is because whenever a person performs any commandment or learns a lot
of Torah on a weekday, he accrues an additional level of Sabbath holiness-even
on the weekday. This applies to the [full] extent individuals are capable
of accruing additional measures of Sabbath holiness.
Learning Torah and performing mitzvot increases the individual's Divine
consciousness. Since Shabbat is the day of higher Divine consciousness,
we may conceive of the additional measure of Divine consciousness attained
by learning Torah and doing mitzvot as a "piece of Shabbat"
that is added the individual. This happens, of course, even in the case
of Divine service performed on weekdays.
This accords with what Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught, namely, that
Torah scholars possess on weekdays the [level of] soul that ignoramuses
possess on the Sabbath.
Thus, the reward that G-d grants Torah scholars for their studies,
or to those who observe the commandments, is likened to that of a worker
who expects his wages. For such people earn their [spiritual] desserts
daily-even on weekdays, when they accrue additional measures of Sabbath
holiness. Therefore, the initials of these words allude to the Sabbath.
Furthermore, the wages mentioned in this verse can understood as well
to refer to the reward one earns each day [for his study and/or observance
of the Torah]. These combine with the other [reward], the additional
measure of Sabbath holiness that comes automatically with the Sabbath,
as is known.
On Shabbat, every Jew's consciousness ascends a spiritual notch, no
Thus, these two additional measures [of Divine consciousness] are given
to the person on Shabbat. In this sense, [both types of] "wages"
paid to this type of "worker" are paid on the Sabbath. The
Sabbath is therefore alluded to in this verse, and this is the mystical
meaning of "he who toils on the day[s] before the Sabbath will
eat on the Sabbath."
The physical sense of this statement is simply that if one prepares
his meals and other needs before Shabbat, he will be able to enjoy them
on Shabbat, but if not, he will have nothing to enjoy because the preparations
he should have done beforehand are forbidden to do on Shabbat. The spiritual
sense of the statement is that the extent of one's spiritual experience
or level of consciousness on Shabbat is proportional to the amount of
spiritual preparation for Shabbat one engages in during the preceding
week. In more prosaic terms: one cannot expect to live (think, eat)
like an animal during the week and suddenly turn into an angel on Shabbat;
if a person doesn't want to be left out of the action on Shabbat, he'd
better put some time into refining himself while he still can-during
the week. True, as we said above, every Jew's spiritual consciousness
ascends automatically on Shabbat, but without the prior weekday preparation,
he cannot "cash in on" or "tune in to" this consciousness,
since he has done nothing to prepare a vessel to receive it.
In any case, the point here is that in addition to whatever heightened
spiritual consciousness an individual attains by learning Torah and
doing mitzvot during the week, these acts also heighten his spiritual
consciousness on Shabbat.
Additionally, [this verse implies] that specifically someone who fulfills
the commandment of paying a worker [on time] acquires the ability to
attain an additional level of soul the following Sabbath. This reward
is given to him measure for measure, for with regard to paying a worker
[on time] it is said, "for
he lifts up his soul to you."
Therefore, in recompense [for granting him his soul, so to speak], the
employer is likewise given an extra level of soul with which to sustain
his [weekday] soul [on the Sabbath]. And therefore, the Sabbath is alluded
to in the initials of this verse.
The idiomatic meaning of "he lifts up his soul" is "he
looks expectantly" or "he directs his desire."